Everybody knows wine comes from a few respected countries. The French know wine. The Italians know wine. The Germans know how to make excessively sweet cough syrup out of grapes. But we don’t generally think of wine coming from anywhere else. Well, maybe California, Australia and Chile, but they’re new enough in wine terms that we can’t pretend they don’t exist.
However, viticulture has a pretty rich history and anywhere you go, you’ll probably find at least one vineyard. Even in places you’re really not expecting one, such as…
Moldova is a teeny tiny little country in Eastern Europe, which, as you might have guessed, means it’s got a pretty weird history. After being invaded by Tartars, Tsars, and Communists, they finally managed to struggle free of pretty much every large country that wanted to eat them and formed their own small, fragile democracy fighting to improve the lot of their people, about 25% of which live on two bucks a day.
So with a history like that, it’s hardly surprising these people have been getting tanked since at least the Stone Age. No, seriously. You may never have heard of Moldovan wine, but the Moldovans have been turning it out for five millennia. In fact, wine was one of Moldova’s biggest exports, back in the 15th century, Even the Communists realized the value of Moldovan wine, and got their vineyards back up to speed after World War II.
Then, of course, they decided to ban Moldovan wines over a diplomatic hissy fit in 2006, because while Vladimir Putin is able to kill ten men while naked with a broken leg, apparently he just can’t handle it when other nations don’t fall down and worship him.
When most people think of the Ukraine, they think of one of two things; their absolutely insane political infighting, and vodka. This is because Ukraine sounds vaguely Russian, and we all know vodka is Russian. Which, actually, it isn’t. It seems that vodka just started catching on pretty much anywhere they grow grain and it’s cold enough to freeze your huevos off. But believe it or not, the Ukraine has been cranking out wine since the 4th century. BC.
To be fair, the Ukraine isn’t located in places that are quite as freezing and hostile as most of Russia. Still, it’s a surprise to discover wine presses and amphorae (the ancient version of wine bottles) on the Ukraine’s south coast. It took about a thousand years for monks to show up in the northern part of the country and start making wine there, but eventually the whole country was turning out the vino. In fact, the Ukraine was providing the Soviet Union with most of its wine, at least until 1986, when Mikhail Gorbachov, deciding he was really sick of the “Russians are drunks” stereotype, decided to try and limit the consumption of alcohol.
So he torched nearly 800 square kilometers of vineyards. Fortunately, Communism fell soon after that, and soon the demand for wine meant the Ukraine was back pumping out vintages you’ve never heard of and can’t find.
Brazilian wine is notable for being the Little Engine that Could: the Portuguese were going to found a winery come hell or high water, no matter how many times the vineyards failed.
Seriously, that’s pretty much the history of Brazilian wine at first: some Portuguese guy decides he’s going to found a vineyard, picks a spot that couldn’t grow a grape with the help of Swamp Thing, and proceeds to eat pavement, probably killing some natives in frustration. Eventually, though, they discovered that the mountains in the southernmost part of the country could grow decent grapes.
And from there, pretty much every time a new wave of immigrants showed up, they brought a new variety of wine with them. The reason you’ve rarely heard of Brazilian wines is because of the lack of interest from actual Brazilians, who kind of need to be the main audience for the stuff, until around 1960. Then exports began to take off and the locals discovered that this stuff growing in their own backyards was actually pretty good.